Last night at Phillips Academy in Andover, Jack You (PA '10) opened up with a PowerPoint presentation about political under-representation and participation of Asian Americans (they make up 4.4% of the U.S. population but hold only 1.5% of federal elected positions, and tend to vote in lower percentages than do other groups).
The reasons You cited for the lack of involvement and representation ran the gamut from a lack of exposure to politics, pre-acquired political values from countries of origin, difficulties with English, cultural passivity, and racism.
You was followed by a panel of speakers which included Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian-American to hold electoral office in the U.S. (Lowell City Council, elected in 1999, 2001, and 2003), Leverett Wing (many years of service in Mass. State Senate and a member of Deval Patrick's transition team), Lisa Wong (recently elected to her second term as mayor of Fitchburg), and Sam Meas (first Cambodian-American U.S. Congressional candidate).
Of the personal stories told by the panelists, I thought Lisa Wong's was the most interesting. She talked about how, as an undergraduate, she questioned a lot of the propaganda that came from activist groups that attempted to corral large numbers of protesters for events, but didn't necessarily attempt to inspire real debate. As a result, she held counter-protests and teach-ins with professors to try to appeal to people who sought critical discussion as opposed to just a bunch of chanting and yelling. After becoming involved in community development in Fitchburg, she looked around for forward-thinking local leadership, but didn't see it and then decided to run for mayor at age 28 (she was first elected in 2007).
I asked her afterwards about how the "triple identity" of being female, young, and a person of color affected her, and she was quick to put it in a positive light -- to many of her constituents, that makes her far more approachable than someone who came straight from Central Casting as Hizzoner, the Mayor.
Overall, the tone of the panel and the audience (mostly Phillips students) seemed very balanced and nonpartisan, which I definitely noted and appreciated -- personally, I find it offensive that as a straight white male, no one ever tells me how I *should* vote, but people who consider themselves enlightened and forward-thinking question why a woman or a person of a particular ethnicity would ever vote a certain way (in a way, that is, that runs counter to someone else's preconceived notion).
For the record, I think ANYONE of any race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or income level should be able to vote any way he or she sees fit. Any single voter's reasons for doing so are complex and individual, so far be it from me (or anyone else) to prescribe what someone *should* or *shouldn't* do based on the box into which someone else wants to put them.